LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) -- Rafael Little rushed for a career-high 104
yards and returned a fourth-quarter kickoff 99 yards for a
touchdown, helping Kentucky avoid a potentially embarrassing defeat
and win 41-29 over Division I-AA Idaho State on Saturday night.
The Big Sky Conference's Bengals (1-1) led 16-14 at halftime,
and 29-28 with 5:06 left after a 26-yard blocked punt return for a
touchdown by Sterling Mennear.
Little, a sophomore running back with only three previous career
kickoff returns, took the ensuing kick back for the decisive score.
It was the first kickoff return for a touchdown by Kentucky (1-1)
since November 2002, when Derek Abney did it, and the
fourth-longest return in school history.
Kentucky cornerback Shomari Moore intercepted Idaho State
quarterback Matt Hagler with 3:44 left, and the Wildcats sealed the
win on tailback Arliss Beach's second touchdown of the game, a
2-yard run with 1:18 left.
Hagler completed 25-of-37 passes for a career-high 291 yards and
rushed for two touchdowns but also threw four interceptions, two in
the final 3:44 as the Bengals -- who outgained Kentucky 448 yards to
310 -- tried to rally.
Hagler's 1-yard run on the final play of the first half put the
Bengals ahead 16-14. Kentucky led 28-16 in the fourth quarter when
Hagler capped an 80-yard touchdown drive with a 3-yard run, pulling
Idaho State within 28-23 with 6:54 left.
Kentucky went three-and-out, and Shedrack Okoebor blocked the
punt by the Wildcats' Tim Masthay. Mennear scooped up the loose
football and rumbled into the end zone.
Little, who had a career-high 19 carries, recorded many of his
yards after he was initially hit. He recorded the first 100-yard
game by a Kentucky running back since last Sept. 18, when Shane
Boyd and Tony Dixon both did so in a win over Indiana.
Keenan Burton returned the opening kickoff 93 yards -- the
longest non-scoring return in Wildcats history -- to the Idaho State
6, and Alexis Bwenge scored on the next play.
But the Bengals answered with a 63-yard pass on their first play
from scrimmage and picked up field goals of 32, 50 and 31 yards
from Jaret Johnson to go ahead 9-7 early in the second quarter. The
50-yarder was a career-best effort for the senior kicker.
Kentucky regained the lead at 14-9 with an 86-yard touchdown
drive, capped by a 31-yard pass from Andre Woodson to Burton, who
outjumped Idaho State cornerback Anthony Melvin in the end zone.
As the players exited the field at halftime, Kentucky fans booed
-- reminiscent of last season, when the Wildcats stumbled to a 2-9
finish that included an embarrassing home loss to Ohio.
The Wildcats responded with third-quarter touchdown drives of 73
and 36 yards, the latter after a 30-yard punt return by Burton.